Tag Archive: WWII

Harsh winter, harsher reality

In America, we often glorify our own involvement in World War II. But it’s easy to forget about our alliesespecially the Soviets, who we’d subsequently spend much of the rest of the 20th century villainizing after the war. If Stalin and his men hadn’t forced the Nazis into a prolonged war on three fronts that bled Hitler’s boys dry, though, we might be living in a very different world indeed.

It’s easy to look back on a conflict that saw the loss of so manyand went on for so long—as a mere collection of dates and names of battles. It’s safer to just look at statistics (like the estimated 60 to 80 million deaths worldwide) and detach yourself from the thought of so much human suffering.

And that’s a major reason why Company of Heroes 2 is so fascinating. Not only does it highlight the war fought along the Eastern Front from 1941-1945, but the single-player campaign tells this underappreciated tale through the eyes of (fictional) lieutenant Lev Abramovich Isakovichand how he copes, years later, with the questionable tactics the Reds often used for “the sake of the greater good” as he’s interrogated by a former superior officer.

The campaign weaves its way through the greatest battles along the Eastern Front, from the very beginning with Operation Barbarossa, through to the bloody Battle of Stalingrad,  continuing to where the Soviets started turning the tables with Operation Iskra (as well as plenty of events around and in between these key moments), and forward right up until the end of the war. Each battle offers a specific set of mission-completion parameters that push your own strategic merits to the limit—and show off what Relic’s new Essence Engine 3.0 can do from a visual perspective.

Some of these visuals effects include the all-important, brand-new weather system that simulates blizzard conditions. The idea of “General Winter” is one that’s protected the Russians for generations, and to see it in full force in Company of Heroes 2 is a new wrinkle that shouldn’t be taken lightly; soldiers who stray from shelter or the warmth of a campfire for too long will start to suffer from hypothermia. There’s no worse feeling in Company of Heroes 2 than watching your soldiers drop, one by one, as they march across the frozen Soviet wasteland, leaving dead bodies in their wake like breadcrumbs. You’re struggling to search for salvation before you’ve even fired your first bullet.

The flipside, of course, is that General Winter can also create new terrain by freezing lakes and rivers. This allows clever players to send an enemy tank that’s decided to take a shortcut over thin ice to a watery grave or cut off a combatant’s retreat or advance with some well-placed mortar fire that shatters the ice.

But aside from this added wintery nuance and a tweaked line-of-sight system that requires your forces to actually be able to see something directly in order to remove the fog of war, there’s very little new here for returning players. That’s not to say that fans will be disappointed—far from it—but if you’re looking for extreme innovation, you might be disappointed.

But as much as Company of Heroes pros might be able to jump right in and get a relatively quick grasp on the situation, newcomers might be as lost as a hapless German soldier trapped behind enemy lines in the Russian winter. The campaign tutorials do little to explore the full upgrade branches of many troops; they limit players to abilities that would fit the situation. This provides a sense of realism rarely seen in an RTS, but it also makes it difficult to learn just what your units can do when certain abilities are suddenly missing for reasons that aren’t adequately explained.

When you get to the multiplayer aspects of Company of Heroes 2, the game is like most any other RTS title. You set up your base, acquire resources, upgrade troops, and attempt to annihilate the enemy from the map or capture certain objectives. Here, RTS vets will find a polished experience that provides a plethora of options to keep the experience fresh; you can set a variety of in-game parameters, such as the all-important weather scenario or computer-controlled AI options. But those coming here from the campaign will be in for a shock; the multiplayer pacing is drastically faster, and the first few matches might give players a rude awakening.

Company of Heroes 2 serves as a shining example of what the best developers can achieve in the RTS genre. The compelling characters and situations seen in single-player and the bountiful array of multiplayer options combine for a winning combination—like borscht and vodka.

Developer: Relic Entertainment • Publisher: Sega • ESRB: M – Mature • Release Date: 06.25.13

While there’s little new here to differentiate between titles besides the change of scenery to WWII’s Eastern Front, Relic once again delivers a premiere RTS experience.

The Good Expansive single-player campaign that does real-life events justice while featuring a bevy of multiplayer options.
The Bad Not for newcomers—and nothing new for veterans.
The Ugly General Winter’s icy grasp.
Company of Heroes 2 is a PC exclusive. 

Face Towards Enemy

When we look back at how first-person shooters have evolved over the past decade or so, WWII was really the setting that started it all and set us down on this path that has led us to modern and futuristic weaponry and intricate geo-political storylines that may be rooted in some obscure facts. But the folks at City Interactive want to make sure that we do not forget about the past and so in a market flooded with modern settings, they give us Enemy Front, an old-school, no holds barred, down and dirty WWII first-person shooter that reminds us why its so much fun to romanticize our grandfather’s war and just blow Nazis up.

In Enemy Front you play as an American OSS Ranger who epitomizes the strong, silent type. Inserted into Nazi occupied Europe during the invasion of Dunkirk while the Allies are in full retreat, you’re running in the opposite direction, headfirst right into the teeth of the Nazi war machine. There, you will team up with a sexy female French resistance fighter and a no frills British commando to work your way deep behind enemy lines to take out key Nazi installations as your mission won’t take you on the traditional direct line to Berlin. Instead you’ll fight through at least France, Poland, and Norway as you assault some of Hitler’s most prized outposts in order to help the Allies turn the tide of the war. And because of the variety of locales, don’t expect this to be your typical five-hour campaign.

“A big thing I wanted to do was get out of that 5-hour campaign rut. I’m sick of it. I’m a huge FPS fan myself, obviously, and it’s just like as I’m about to really get into these other games that are out there, it’s over. So our levels are looking to be about an hour long each. They’re built on CryEngine 3. You can do pretty wide open levels with that, but we’ve kept things relatively linear. It’s a bit of a corridor shooter, but you’ll see that it’s a very wide corridor and you still have options on paths to take and what not. I’m a big believer in the Power of Three when it comes to game development. Anytime you’re thinking of a number in development, it’s probably three. So at any given moment, in terms of level design, I want to player to have at least three choices as to where they’re going and what they’re going to do. And so we’re looking at about 11 levels and hoping to get about 12 hours out of the campaign,” says Enemy Front Creative Director Stuart Black.

Enemy Front also looks to differentiate itself via the weapons it allows you to use and how they can be used in combat. Spotlighting a lot of less featured weapons from most other WWII games allows the game to have a newer feel in this old-school genre as weapons like the British Lanchester SMG are actually your character’s weapons of choice. There is also a unique reload system where you can reload your weapon faster, no matter what it is, if the clip hasn’t been fully emptied. This risk/reward system can become critical in a firefight as you have to strategically plan when to reload as a longer reload caused by emptying the clip could mean the difference between life and death.

But just because a lot of focus is being keyed in on the single player campaign for the game doesn’t mean it won’t have a multiplayer feature. Looking to incorporate a territory-based twist to your standard Team Deathmatch, Enemy Front will definitely allow you to jump online with your buddies for some WWII setting multiplayer mayhem. Beyond the confirmation of Team Deathmatch though, there was nothing else that was willing to be revealed about the mode at this time.

All in all, this throwback seems like a breath of fresh air as, even with its simplified scene and story, it gives the player a real sense of empowerment pitting you against the entire Third Reich and giving you a legit chance to come out on top. I can’t wait to return to my WWII first-person shooter roots a bit when Enemy Front comes out during this upcoming holiday season.

Comics to Video Games: Nick Fury

Originally Published: March 24, 2011, on Comicvine.com

Nick Fury is one of the Marvel universe’s most important movers and shakers and his history is a long and storied one. World War II hero. Longest ever tenured director of SHIELD. Master manipulator of heroes and villains alike. But Nick Fury has never been the most dynamic of characters by his lonesome and is best known, especially nowadays, as working with a large group of people, whether leading a group of heroes or pulling strings behind the scenes in order to get to what he feels is best for the security of the world. So how could we make Nick the centerpiece of his own game while still playing to this strength?

The easy way out of an article like this would’ve been to just make this some World War II first-person shooter. But we’ve all seen that before and it’s not like Nick has some super powers to mix things up a bit. Plus, you move away from the group dynamic that I think Nick needs. No, this game would have to take place in the modern era and so I recommend featuring the Secret Warriors and making a hybrid game that combines RPG and gameplay elements from a game like Mass Effect 2 and action elements from a game like Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood.

The first problem we would need to consult is the plot and that Nick doesn’t typically leave one of his many secret bases unless it is a severe threat or he is meeting with someone in person (and even then it might just be a Life Model Decoy). Luckily, HYDRA and Leviathan have been pretty busy lately in the comics and keeping Nick active and so this could be our reason for him to have that more hands on approach.

I’ve never been good at coming up with a great conspiracy theory, but I’m sure Jonathan Hickman would be willing to lend a hand on fleshing out the plot since we’re using the characters he’s currently writing and could help come up with an original story since we know all the players who will be involved. We have the Secret Warriors, Leviathan, and HYDRA all mixing it up once again for the fate of the free world. Contessa and Baron von Strucker would have to make an appearance somewhere I’m sure.

Now to get back into the gameplay. Much like Mass Effect 2, we’ll have Nick take point of a three-person party with the other two party members being chosen from the Secret Warriors. What would be interesting about this dynamic is while Nick is taking headshots at HYDRA agents, depending on whom you chose from the team, you could have Quake stunning enemies with concentrated seismic tremors while Druid acts like a mage from a fantasy based RPG boosting powers or casting spells from a distance to help strike down the foes of freedom. I’m still not sure if we’ll have Phobos or Hellfire available since they’re technically dead at this point, but this would still give you five Secret Warriors for Fury to choose from as he hops around the world quelling threat after threat.

It wouldn’t be an RPG though if there wasn’t a leveling up system. I still might include a morality meter like in Mass Effect 2, at least for how the team reacts to Nick, but the traditional leveling up system will be very different. Sure, you can upgrade powers, health, and weapons depending on what character is leveling, but Nick Fury is known for having many pieces in motion at once on his worldwide chessboard. So instead of there being a shared XP system like in most RPGs and everyone leveling up rather evenly, team members who are not with Nick on certain missions can be assigned various secondary tasks, much like your assassin trainees in Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood, and in only that way can they level up while you’re out performing your plot required duties. For example, if you always use Slingshot and Stonewall on your team, but then a mission comes up where Eden Fesi’s teleportation powers might prove interesting and you haven’t been sending him on secondary missions, he might not be able to pull his own weight on the plot’s primary mission you want to use him for.

Another aspect of Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood I want to incorporate is the parkour movement aspect. Many, if not all RPGs, can feel very stiff when it comes to movement. Nick Fury is a secret agent though in peak physical condition and has trained all the members of the Secret Warriors himself. So why not have it where you can pull the camera back a little and climb and sneak through various bases and scenarios with your teammates to give it that real espionage feel? Or even have sections where you can choose to have members of your team break off from the group. Have Slingshot race around to the side of a base and flank your enemies or provide a distraction while Nick climbs up and crawls through some ventilation ducts. These choices could really provide a deep strategy aspect to the game as you try to decide what teammates to bring and how to progress through a level.

Another staple of Nick Fury stories is that he has a lot of flashbacks so even though we don’t want to make it the focus, we could have a couple of World War II levels to set up certain missions where Nick teams up with Captain America, Bucky, and/or Wolverine. This could help draw people in with some more name recognition and provide some variety incase we only use the five remaining members of the Secret Warriors as team choices. Or maybe have a few levels where Nick’s agenda could go against those of the Avengers or other heroes to really put a twist on things as Nick and the Secret Warriors could face off against friends and allies.

Originally Published: December 2, 2010, on Youtube.com/CGRUndertow

As a part of CGR Undertow, I reviewed Blazing Angels: Squadrons of WWII for the Nintendo Wii from Ubisoft.

Originally Published: September 29, 2010, on ClassicGameRoom.com and NationalLampoon.com

I reviewed RUSE for the Xbox 360. RUSE is a turn based strategy video game taking place in World War 2 and is also available on PS3 and PC.

Smooth as Velvet

Originally Published: May 14, 2009, on 1050ESPN.com (now ESPNNewYork.com) and Lundberg.me

I admit that I have never been a fan of World War II or other historically based games. I felt that it limited the imagination of the player and the developers because at the end of the day, no matter what happens in the game, we know the outcome of the war. Sure, these specific era based shooters are great and the gameplay and graphics usually try to make up for the lack of originality, but I usually can walk away from the game without finishing it and not really care because in my mind, I still know the ending.

That leads us into today’s review. In Velvet Assassin you play as a female British secret agent during World War II with the gameplay revolving around your lurking in the shadows and undermining the Nazi regime in 1943-1944 Western Europe. I had heard rumors about this game in the later part of 2008 and then saw a demo at NY ComicCon and my interest was immediately piqued: A semi-original storyline (it’s based off a real-life WWII British agent) that didn’t revolve around troop movements and taking out tanks with bazooka launchers. It dealt with the grittier, darker side of war; sneaking cyanide capsules to captured double agents, infiltrating enemy strongholds and single-handedly sabotaging their oil lines or railways, and assassinating high-ranking officials in the middle of the night.

The great thing about this game is that it emphasizes stealth more than anything and it is rare to a see a game do this nowadays. Yes, the Metal Gear series has stealth elements as a strong part of the game, but then again you could hide in a crappy cardboard box and had a wealth of weapons and devices at any moment to help dispatch your enemies. At no time during this game do you have more than three weapons, one of which is your ever-present knife, to remind you that the best kill is the one that doesn’t make a sound (aside from the satisfying noise of your defeated foe gurgling on his own blood). The gameplay was a nice changeup from the run-and-gun style of most of today’s games.

While the game makes you think and work to succeed in ways that most games don’t anymore, the story engrosses you in the character with what has always been a limited subject matter for originality. Firstly, the female lead, Violette Summer (almost sounds like violent summer, any irony there?), is an attention grabber just due to the lack of female leads in games. Add in that she is one of the main weapons for the British on the frontlines doing the unthinkable and you’ve already got me hooked. But that wasn’t enough for SouthPeak Games. To add on top of it, the entire game is her memories of the war while she is in a coma from injuries that are explained as you progress. This also ties into one of the more interesting aspects of the gameplay. You can collect morphine over the course of most levels that represent an increase of her real-life dosage to help slow things down for her and make her dreams less strenuous (and less difficult for you).

Along with the great gameplay and plot, the game is graphically beautiful. From lurking in the shadows of ancient European cathedrals to trudging through the sewers of French ghettos, the visuals are superb. And the shadows are so critical to the entire game as you cross in front of floodlights and watch your silhouette raise the attention of the dozing off guards, or knock the lights out to bathe a room in obsidian safety.

Include a haunting soundtrack and you can actually feel your blood begin to race from the tension, as if you were in the shoes of the heroine, as you know that the wrong move could alert the enemy to your position and almost assuredly forfeit your life. The atmosphere that was created with so little and the clandestine nature of the game leaves you breathless like when you stare directly into the vapid eyes of the gasmask of a flame-trooper while he patrols right by you.

Time-accurate weaponry and locales, stunning graphics, and powerful atmospheric elements that stay with you well after you turn your XBOX360 off, makes this game a great stealth experience. If you’re tired of the usual run-and-gun and looking for a little more strategy from your shooters, this is a must have. Velvet Assassin is out now for XBOX360 and the PC.

Ratings are based on a scale of 1 to 10 with 10 being the highest.

Graphics: 8.5: Although beautiful, the game is mostly spent in the dark so I can’t give it a perfect score. The lighting effects are top of the line though. Along with some very smooth NPCs (Non-playable characters), this game is not going to disappoint you visually.

Audio: 10.0: There purposely isn’t a lot of music to help immerse you in the experience of being this character and to stress the stealth aspects of the game. The music that is there is moving and sets the mood beautifully. Along with great voice acting by all involved (even if most of it is in a foreign language with subtitles, you could still feel the emotions of the characters) and Melinda Cohen who plays Violette (and doubles as the physical basis for Violette very nicely as well) does a brilliant job.

Plot/Plot Development: 7.0: It is another game based off of real-life events so you still know the historical outcome, but it is a story that hasn’t been told in a WWII game before and super-spies always play better to me than Saving Private Ryan rip-offs. This is more along the lines of Splinter Cell or No One Lives Forever, minus the fictional megalomaniac villains and replacing it with one of the original, real-life megalomaniac villains. This is one of the best stories for a game that you know the ending to that has come out in a long time.

Gameplay: 9.0: Difficult (at least on the hard difficulty I played on) but addictive, this game will keep you entertained for a solid 10-15 hours (I beat it in 11), and for this, that is the perfect length of time. The game is so engrossing that any longer and you would probably start speaking German and lurking in the shadows on your way to work in the morning.

Replay Value: 3.0: There are some interesting WWII inspired collectibles throughout the levels, but aside from that there just isn’t enough to bring you back for a second playthrough once you beat this. Great game, but definitely a one and done.

Overall: 8.0 (not an average): I thoroughly enjoyed Velvet Assassin as it was a nice alternative to all the run-and-gun shooters that usually permeate the market. Although it didn’t have enough to bring me back for more, and the last level was frustrating because it deviated from the stealth theme of the rest of the game, the game as a whole is engrossing and deserves a look from any shooter fan.

Also, I just want to include a special shout-out to Jino Song of Video Game World at 58 Broad St. in Bloomfield, NJ, 07003. Jino was kind enough, for a nominal fee, to fix my XBOX360 after I burned the lens out (it’s what I get for playing games for 10-12 hours a day) in just 24 hours. No hassle, no six week wait for Microsoft to replace my system, just a single day. Without Jino’s help, this review, and any game reviews coming in the next couple of months, would not be. If you have an XBOX360 that is giving you problems or are tired of the lack of personality you usually get from the big chain stores like Best Buy or GameStop, check out Jino’s shop and tell him that Ray Carsillo sent you.

-Ray Carsillo